Wool pulled over your eyes?

Wool pulled over your eyes?

The driver of the BMW had completed his job for the day. He had a signed contract for a lucrative piece of work and rather than race to the motorway he decided to take things easy, enjoy a beautiful summer’s day and the rolling Devon countryside. As he motored along the gentle lanes he noticed a passing place and decided to pull and enjoy the scenery. He stood at the gate and watched a shepherd working with his sheep.

The shepherd soon noticed him and came up to the gate to see what he wanted. He explained that he didn’t want anything he was just enjoying the day. However if he could tell the shepherd exactly how many sheep he had in his field right from where he was without entering the field could he have one of his sheep- a wager of sorts. The shepherd agreed and said he would come back in 20 minutes.

The driver set to work in the car and soon had a an image of the field on his laptop and with the clever software he had loaded the system calculated one hundred and fifty eight “bodies”- subtract one for the shepherd and the total sheep count was 157. He went confidently back to the gate.

“One hundred and fifty seven” he told the shepherd.

“Exactly right” replied the shepherd. “Choose your sheep”

The driver chose what he thought was a healthy looking sheep and the shepherd helped him load it into the boot of the car.

“Before you drive off,” said the shepherd, “if I can tell you exactly what you do for a living may I have that sheep back and a choice of one of your electrical devices?”  A sort of double or quits.

“Ok,” replied the driver- a bit of a betting man and he was having a good day.

“You are management consultant”

“How did you know that?”

“Well, you look like a management consultant, you came out here and used a lot of clever techniques to tell me what I knew already and charged me a sheep for it. On top of that, the sheep you have in your boot is a dog!”

Top Tips

  • Consultants can be valuable in helping you look objectively at your organisation, especially if you are too busy working in the organisation to do so. Are you?
  • Consultants can bring missing expertise and perspectives to the table. Where are your gaps?
  • It’s your job to ensure they deliver ‘value’ – so, what is value and how will you measure it?
  • Consultants need to gather information, but should you pay them simply for providing information you already know? Maybe, if that provides clarity (what exactly are the issues?) and certainty (how do we know that is true?) otherwise missing.
  • You should get a balanced outlook exposing both good and bad aspects of your organisation. Don’t shoot the messenger just because you don’t like the message.
  • You should get a range of costed options – it’s your organisation and thus your choice. They can help you make decisions but not make the decisions for you.
  • Consultants have to make a living as well so if you want to negotiate, then get into their shoes. They will be trying to get into yours!

T>alking – consultants who talk more than you, may be coming with pre-convictions about the issues you face, or lack skill to uncover the “real” cause of the symptoms. Initial conversations about your business, need consultants who are skilled in questioning and listening.

Reality – skilled consultants interrogate reality, to make sure that it is! In most organisations people don’t say what they mean or what needs saying, because they are too polite or believe nothing will change. Great ideas lurk in dark pools and take time to flush out to the surface.

Understanding – only when this is done should the consultant have an understanding as good, if not better than yours, of three things. What the issues are, which are priorities and how best to tackle them.

Strategy – a costed range of options falling from the above, and a recommendation for, at the very least, next steps. This should include success criteria and measures, review timing and alternatives.

Take Action –  implement actions within the strategy. “How” implementation is done is as or more important than “what” is implemented. Review success regularly and be prepared to tweak to get the desired results.

If you can’t trust the consultant, don’t – especially if they can’t tell the difference between a dog and sheep!


Managing Performance Management


Why is performance management generally undertaken so poorly? It never ceases to amaze me that something that should be a “force for good” in any organisation, is often seen as a chore (by both parties) and at worst a “stick” to beat up employees who are working and trying their hardest. It can look like the idea is to trick people into working their socks off all year, but by the virtue of PM (and something hidden in the small print of their many objectives), they end up with a “satisfactory” rating at best and not the monetary rewards they imagined.

Performance Management is actually quite simple but can easily be complicated to the extent that it becomes unworkable and unpleasant – to be avoided by both reviewer and reviewed. The process can become stressful for all parties and lead to a break-down in working relationships, grievance procedures and litigation. Has anyone ever actually costed the process to see if it is worth doing in these circumstances?

I have been coaching someone recently – we will call him Bob – and as part of the conversations that we have had, Bob asked me to look at his Performance Plan for the current year to date, ahead of a review.

What immediately struck me about the plan was that there were 9 separate parts to the plan, with a number of objectives/targets under each part – around 20 targets in all. There were also a couple of stretch targets, which were actually just additional targets. Also, the objectives/targets were:

  • peppered with vague wording (see below)
  • not measurable
  • simply tasks to do
  • the only measurable target out of the 20 (% increase in an aspect) , had no indication of how much increase was required.

As a result Bob was having some difficulty preparing for the review and demonstrating his performance confidently. Much of his content (evidence of performance) was defensive and equally vague – and who could blame him?

So what about wording in these objectives/targets? Here are some of the words used in Bob’s plan objectives:-

  • Satisfactory and timely resolution…………..
  • Timely implementation…………..
  • Timely and accurate submission………..
  • Ensuring policies adhered to………..
  • Demonstrate adding value………….
  • Ensure………….are submitted in a timely manner.
  • Positive contribution in …………. meetings
  • Evidence of engaging with…………

The problem with all of these is they are:-

  • Not measurable. How much evidence do you need to provide to “demonstrate adding value” or “engagement”? How much is not enough? What counts as evidence?
  • Tasks . This is something that Bob has to do as part of his role (in the Job Description, if it is up to date?) and to include a task is a waste of an objective, as well as demonstrating a lack of understanding about what an objective/target is for. Also, Bob can either do the task (satisfactory) or not (fail) – there is no scope to exceed a task target.

What should we do then? Top tips include:-

1. Think about what the organisation is trying to achieve? Bob’s objectives should be consistent and congruent with the organisation/department/team. Bob should be able to see where his contribution fits with the bigger picture. That done Bob is more likely to be engaged – many staff don’t have this joined up view of how they contribute to the organisation in a meaningful way.

2. Avoid listing tasks. What Bob does is the task or activity (an input). What derives from that task or activity is the result or outcome (an output). So measure and focus on what you want Bob to achieve (the output) and leave him to decide (if he is experienced) on what he needs to do (the input). Bob is quite capable of doing that!

3. To get from input to output, ask yourself “if Bob did this task really well, what would be the result?” – keep asking that question until you decide upon result of all that activity and this will be your objective – more sales, less error time, better satisfaction scores, less waste, quicker delivery, less rejects, lower costs, deadline met……………

4. Too many targets will likely result in a lack of focus. Decide on the 4 – 8 critical things that you want the person to achieve or deliver. Those are then objectives to be written into the plan.

5. Every objective (what you want Bob to achieve) should be able to be measured. If it cannot be measured or isn’t being measured currently, you have two choices….

  • If it isn’t being measured, is it important? If not, don’t make it an objective.
  • If it is an important objective, start measuring it.

6. Less is more. Simple, measurable, achievements during a set time are often quite succinct and therefore quite clear. This also makes demonstrating performance simple and objective – Bob will know exactly where he is in terms of his performance at his review

7. Start with absolute clarity. At the beginning of the year or period:-

  • Construct and agree the objectives/targets
  • Construct and agree the measures

If this looks deceptively easy – it is and it should be. If Bob’s manager doesn’t really know what they want Bob to achieve for the team and the organisation, then Bob cannot really be held responsible for unstructured, unfocused performance. It just takes a little time and effort, and some different thinking…………

Going back to Bob’s review papers, I had 12 sheets of paper with writing on, but no idea from all that was before me how Bob had performed, and neither had he! What a waste of time and effort all round. Now multiply that time by the number of people in your organisation…………..What could you achieve with that additional time spent on the organisation’s objectives?


Improving performance or cementing poor practices?

Improving PerformanceI was sitting in one of my favourite places the other day enjoying coffee, reading a good book and doing a little bit of people watching. It is amazing what you see if you just look. All of what we discuss in the training room happens in real life. It so happens that on the table next to me I noticed that there was a performance review being undertaken. Which is cool, as we often mention in training, getting the environment right adds great value to the process, getting out of the office can change mind sets and encourage a deeper discussion. Except, this wasn’t getting out of the office, it was the manager of the coffee shop undertaking a review with one of the baristas. Again this wouldn’t, necessarily, be a problem, however the manager insisted on continuing her day job whilst undertaking the review. The barista didn’t complain, seemingly happy with the way his review was being done to him. I choose my words carefully as that does seem to be a theme introduced by many participants on our training courses, their reviews are done to them. It is about what the manager wants to say, not about discussing ways to improve performance. Consequently, why engage with the process? Let’s just get it over with so I can get back to my day job, luckily it is only a couple of times a year. Many companies notice that performance management isn’t working and occasionally bring in some expensive consultants to redesign the process. However, generally, it is not the process that is the problem but the way the staff engage with the process.

So if you are a manager of people, reviewing the performance of others will be a part of your role. Only you can decide how big a part. You can decide where your focus is, you can decide whether it is something you do to your people or do with them. You can use it as a tool to engage with your staff or use it as another way to alienate them. Your choice, you decide.